Bracha Miriam Turner
On Sunday, May 22, over 200 people gathered at YULA Girls School for the 13th Annual Ariel Avrech Lecture. Organized by Robert and Karen Avrech, in cooperation with Young Israel of Century City, this year’s event included an address by conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro.
The room was bursting from the seams, forcing some listeners to stand in the back. Robert Avrech – an Emmy award winning screenwriter and producer – and his wife, Karen – a child psychologist – created the lecture series as a tribute to their son. To the assembled crowd, Mr. Avrech described Ariel: Academically advanced for his age, he skipped a grade and entered high school a year early before being diagnosed with cancer. After high school, Ariel fought to maintain his learning, studying at Ner Yisroel in Baltimore before being forced to return home due to his deteriorating condition.
Michael Wiener, Ariel’s friend from Hillel Hebrew Academy, then spoke fondly of Ariel – recalling his defense of a bullied kid in middle school, meeting Michael J. Fox, his own face appearing in a movie for a second, and how Ariel wore a suit and black hat while walking for two hours journey in summertime heat to a bar mitzvah.
The featured speaker of the event was Ben Shapiro, whose presentation shared a title with his best-selling book, Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth. Upon assuming the podium, Shapiro surprised the audience: “I’m going to tell you how you can save Israel.”
Shapiro presented his case on how to end Israel hatred, which he persistently equated with Jew hatred, a problem that has prevailed for the past three years at UCLA, his alma mater.
“You tell the college student, ‘Forget that! You’re an anti-Semite because you’re holding Israel to a different moral standard than the rest of the world.'”
In order to save Israel, Shapiro argued, we must take political action, not meekly hope for peace. At the national and global level, he recounted statements from John Kerry and the Obama administration that isolated Israel and undermined its attempts to fend off a nuclear Iran and to reconcile with its enemies.
Shapiro forecasted that the U.S. is heading towards increasing isolationism. He spoke of internal and external threats to the State of Israel – political, economic, and even ethnic ones. Analyzing candidates for the presidential election, he scorned Donald Trump for his pandering “to the worst sort of people,” who hate Jews and foreigners. He also denounced Trump for using the term “Political Correctness” in order to not have to take stances on major issues.
Shapiro concluded that Trump is reactionary and may be starting a new movement, but his stance towards Israel remains unclear until he will “stand still on some issues.” He also assured the audience that Hillary Clinton’s administration would be no better for Israel.
Next, Shapiro identified an internal threat to Israel: a secular left which questions the very existence of the state. Shapiro categorized leftists as those who tend to side with the underdog. This presumption has caused them to repeatedly denounce Israel; Israel’s prosperity in the face of internal problems suggests to them that Israel must have done something wrong against Palestinians. Israel has admitted it committed “these original sins” in an attempt to appease those who oppose her on this account, but this simply reinforces the mindset of the country’s adversaries. However, real security threats from places like Iran tend to cause the country to move toward the right.
As part of his regimen to combat Israel’s haters, Shapiro suggests that Jews should support religious Christians in Christian moral causes. Many of these issues also affect Jews, and he believes this would be a beneficial alliance. Moreover, he brought data suggesting that more evangelical Christians are pro-Israel than Jews. Noting that there are not many moderate voices in the Muslim world, he said, “Every moral narrative has to have a bad guy. The problem is that with the pro-Israel community, there is a reticence to actually naming the bad guy” – referring to Muslim fundamentalism.
Even more controversially, Shapiro told the audience to stop providing monetary support to AIPAC as a whole. Instead, he recommended they support specific projects and causes, since lobbying efforts are largely corrupted by concerns for re-election.
On college campuses, he explained the importance of loudly critiquing Israel’s enemies, and targeting those who do not already have a stance on the issue – which includes the majority of college students.
“Negative ads are the only ads that work” he declared. “Make issues so toxic that people run away from it.” Emphasizing the perpetration of horrific hangings, decapitations, and violent criminal laws in counter-protests is necessary.
Following Mr. Shapiro’s address, Rabbi Avi Stewart, who was Ariel’s close friend at Yeshiva Gedolah, sang the “Kel Malei Rachamim,” and Mr. Avrech recited a most moving kaddish.